How does Harper Lee build tension on pages 156-160 (Chapter 15), and how does she present the theme of racism in one other part of To Kill a Mockingbird?
The gathering of men in the Finch's front yard immediately arouses suspicion from Scout, since
In Maycomb, grown men stood outside in the front yard for only two reasons: death and politics. I wondered who had died.
Although the children should have recognized the group as friends of Atticus', Jem believes it is a gang out to get their father. Author Harper Lee keeps both the children and the reader in suspense by only alllowing parts of their conversation to be heard. We find that Sheriff Tate is "uneasy" and warns about the possibility of "trouble"; Link Deas is "worried," telling Atticus he may "lose... everything." After Atticus asks his always dangerous question,
"Do you really think so?"
the men move toward him, backing Atticus against the front step. It so upsets Jem that he lets out a scream; the men "jumped a little and scattered," but Atticus's nonchalant answer put the men at ease.
Laughter broke them up...
and Atticus went inside, wondering "Why on earth are you all sitting in the dark?" This is just the beginning of the tension Lee creates during the chapter. We wonder what will happen next when the conversation turns to the Ku Klux Klan and Jem's admission to Scout that he is "Scared about Atticus." The mystery continues when Atticus suddenly decides to go out for a while; stranger still, he is driving the car, which he only uses for business trips: Atticus always walks when he has business in Maycomb. There was something else "that interested us": Atticus was carrying an extension cord with a light bulb on the end. These unusual acts were too much for Jem, who decided to sneak out after dark and investigate the matter himself, and Scout and Dill decided to come along.
It took nearly the entire Finch family to save Tom Robinson from the hanging he was going to receive from the lynch mob, but the next day Atticus applauded his children's decision to stay with him at the jail.
"So it took an eight-year-old child to bring 'em to their senses, didn't it?... That proves something--that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they're still humans... you children made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough."
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